Q: Who is the only major league player to get five hits off Nolan Ryan in one game?
A: Robin Ventura.
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the night Robin Ventura made one of the dumbest decisions in all of sports history: charging the mound against a legendary future Hall of Famer, twice his age, in the pitcher’s home park. Now, think about it. If Ventura had popped Ryan a couple of times and bloodied his lip or, worse, really messed him up, he would have been vilified as a sorry punk who beat up an old man. Pick on someone your own age! Are you kidding me? Pretty gutless. On the other hand, it would be even worse if he charged Nolan and the old man took him behind the woodshed in front of 40,000 fans and every national highlights show for the rest of the month.
Ventura charging the mound against Ryan at the old Arlington Stadium was a lose-lose decision for him. No matter the outcome, he was going to be branded the loser. And he was. And still is. Forever.
If you click here, you can read Gerry Fraley’s original story on the incident that ran the next day in the Dallas Morning News. It’s fun to remember that Ryan was struggling, down 2-0 in the third inning, when he hit Ventura. Then, after the brawls — there were two, did you remember that? — Ryan went on to record the next two outs on two pitches and recorded 12 outs over his next 13 batters to earn the 5-2 win. Also by clicking that above link, you can watch a six-minute video of the original game broadcast of the event. You’ve got to watch all six minutes to see both brawls, to see Pudge and Raffy and Julio Franco and Jeff Russell and Bo Jackson all mixing it up, and to watch Ventura and White Sox manager Gene Lamont get tossed while Nolan stayed in.
It was ugly. And so beautiful.
Happy Anniversary, Nolan. I hope your Astros lose tonight.
40,000? In August? The old stadium? Wonder what the actual attendance really was (not announced).
Old Arlington Stadium officially sat 35,500. In August during those days, you’re right: attendance rarely, if ever, climbed to 20,000. But this was a Nolan Ryan start in his last major league season. There were many Rangers fans, myself and my brother included, who went to every single home game Ryan started. Those games always nearly doubled the attendance. I’m guessing the actual attendance that night was more like 30,000. Those nights always felt packed.
Twenty-plus years later, it’s funny to me how many people say they were in attendance for Nolan’s milestone performances: his 5,000the strikeout, his seventh no-hitter, the Ventura game. There were only 30,000 there in the stadium on those nights, but there are about 250,000 people out there today saying they were there.
Keith and I once saw Nolan Ryan take a no-hitter into the 9th inning with one out. The Rangers were up 1-0 — I can’t remember the opponent — and the excitement was indescribable. It was the most fun I’d ever had in that stadium. Then Nolan gave up a back-to-back double and home run, the lead was gone, the no-no was over, and the Rangers lost.
I can say I was there for Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strikeout. Waited until just before the first pitch and bought a ticket off a desperate scalper for $50. Turns out it was 14 rows behind the Rangers’ dugout on the first-base side. I recall that one George W. Bush (pre-presidential days, obviously) was sitting just a row or two from me. I’m no Rangers fan — GO ROYALS! — but how could you not love Nolan Ryan mowing major-league hitters down at age 46? I’m only a few years older than that and there are mornings my knees don’t want to operate.